Mumbai’s iconic dabbawala service and the Kumbh Mela are classic examples of Indian self-organisation,says thinker and philosopher Rajiv Malhotra.
In his book “Being Different: An Indian Challenge to Western Universalism”,the Indian-American researcher says that the unique tiffin service,which uses a network with no central node or organiser,is similar to the decentralised structure of the Internet with individual entrepreneurs functioning as local nodes dealing with their respective neighbouring nodes without an central command.
“Management schools have studied this structure and found it amazingly efficient and modern delivery companies such as DHL and Federal Express have tried,but failed,to compete with it,” he writes.
The book,published by Harper Collins,addresses the challenge of a direct and honest engagement on differences,by reversing the gaze,repositioning India from being the observed to the observer and looking at the West from the dharmic point of view.
In doing so,the writer challenges many hitherto unexamined beliefs that both sides hold about themselves and each other. He highlights that while unique historical revelations are the basis for Western religions,dharma emphasizes self-realization in the body here and now. He also points out the integral unity that underpins dharma’s metaphysics and contrasts this with Western thought and history as a synthetic unity.
Malhotra also writes that the Kumbh mela amply demonstrates that diversity can be self-organised and not anarchic,even on a very large scale.
“Held every 12 years,this is the world’s largest gathering of people,attracting tens of millions of individuals from all corners of India,from all strata of society,and from all kinds of traditions,ethnicities and languages.”
“Yet there is no central organising body,no event manager to send out invitations or draw up a schedule,nobody in charge to promote it,no centralised registration system to get admitted.”
“Nobody has official authority or ownership of the event,which is spontaneous and belongs to the public domain,” the book says.
According to the author,since time immemorial,numerous groups have put up their own mini-townships and millions go as individuals just to participate in the festivities.
Erudite and engaging,”Being Different” critiques fashionable reductive translations and analyses the West’s anxiety over difference and fixation for order which contrast the creative role of chaos in dharma. It concludes with a rebuttal of Western claims of universalism,while recommending a multi-cultural worldview.
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